Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Your typical tactics won't work here

Shortly before Ryan's bedtime, he trashed his room. A totally thorough trashing. Quite impressive, actually.

So I laid down Typical Parent Threat #3: clean up this mess now or I'll give away anything that's left on the floor.

But Ryan is not a typical child, so typical parent threats don't always work the way I'd like.

I gave him 10 minutes; Stu set a timer on his phone as a visual aid.

I gave Ryan prompts to keep him on track: start with your rubber duckies, here are some more Legos, you'd be totally sad if I had to take away these dinosaurs.

Every few seconds, Ryan asked Stu for an update on "how many minutes are left?"

He stayed on task for the entire 10 minutes, but he was nowhere near done. I decided to give him an extension.

"Tell you what," I offered, "I'll pick up the books, and you have until I'm finished with the books to put away the rest of the toys."

Immediately he started picking up books.

"Don't worry about the books," I said, "you pick up the toys, I'll do the books."

He pushed some toys around, then asked "Should I clean up the books now?"

"No, sweetie, just work on the toys. I'll take care of the books."

He put a couple of toys on a shelf. Then he handed me a few books.

"You don't get it, do you? When the books are all cleaned up, time is up."

He truly didn't get it. I explained the concept several different ways, and he just kept helping me clean up the books. We played this game for a solid half-hour before declaring the room good-enough; I'm still holding his Play-Doh hostage until the room is actually clean.

How do you get your atypical child to clean his room?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's not his fault

A couple of weeks ago a nurse at the neurofeedback therapist's office put electrodes and goo all over Ryan's head, clipped some wires to his earlobes, and ran a series of five short tests called a brain map. For the first test, Ryan had to sit very still with his eyes closed for three minutes (I had him in a death grip for this) to measure his resting EEG. The nurse measured the electrical activity in various parts of his brain while he rested with eyes open, read a book, counted.

Yesterday I sat down with Dr. Brainly to get the results. Dr. Brainly has never met Ryan - has never seen his face - but you'd never know that from our conversation.

"Ryan's resting EEG shows more activity than average. Children with a higher dominant frequency tend to be easily frustrated and hard to calm down, and in the face of stress they have a tendency to show regressive behavior. It's not his fault."

Yes, that sounds like my kid.

"It's not his fault," the doctor emphasized.

I let that sink in.

We always say things like, "Oh, he's just wired differently," but this was my first time opening up the machine and seeing the wires. There they were, firing at 9 Hz instead of the typical 7-8 Hz, demonstrating in a clinical, dispassionate way that there really is something different going on in my kid's head - that he can't help freaking out over things I don't think of as problems.

The doctor moved on to the results of other tests.

"Ryan demonstrated very little focus on reading, and a much greater degree of engagement in math."

Yes. That's what all his teachers would tell you.

Then he became very animated telling me about Ryan's P3 - the area of the brain responsible for staying with a task and finishing things. "Look at this chart! He's three-and-a-half standard deviations outside the norm!"

I have seen the real-world results of this, and it's pretty frustrating.

He talked about "co-modulation" and said Ryan's brain efficiency is low in the area that handles self-awareness. "He's off socially but he doesn't realize he's off," the doctor explained.

Any lingering doubts I had were quickly erased when I saw how much a doctor could tell about Ryan's challenges just by looking at his EEG. So in a few weeks, Ryan will begin a three-month-long course of neurofeedback therapy, which we hope will change his neurophysiology in a way that reduces some of the behaviors that prevent him from focusing in school or interacting with other kids in a positive way.

This was the first time I left a therapy-related appointment without crying. Walking out the door, I even felt a little hopeful for the first time.

It's not his fault.

It's not my fault.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Tale of Two Ryans

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. It was a day of "what the hell is that on my carpet?," it was a day of "who is this child and can we keep him?" It was a day of three baths before noon, it was a day of planning a party for a friend.

I'm going to race through the winter of despair [redacted, redacted, I'm going to take my time picking up my friend at the train station so I don't have to deal with this anymore] and get right to the spring of hope. My friend Jessica came to visit - it was the first time we've seen each other since the move. Though he had certainly met her a couple of times, I had no reason to believe Ryan would have any memory of her.

As soon as she and I walked into the house, Ryan jumped out from behind the kitchen counter and shouted "Surprise!" He was totally excited to have company over, and announced that we needed to have a party. He talked a lot about putting up decorations, but somehow never got around to making any. He debated whose birthday we should pretend it was (if it's a party, there must be a birthday, right?).

"Should it be the shed's birthday?"

Uh, sure, Kid.

"No," he corrected me, "the shed does not have a smile to blow out the candles, so it can not be the shed's birthday."

Ah. Right.

"Should it be a bird's birthday?"

"Yeah, I'm sure one of those birds outside has a birthday coming up," I agreed.

"No," Ryan explained, "it could not be a bird's birthday because the birds would keep flying away." He flapped his hands to clarify the point.


"Why don't we pretend it's Jessica's birthday?" I offered. This seemed like a good idea - one that was never spoken of again.

Ryan helped me give Jess a tour of the new house, helpfully pointing out what he considered the highlights. "And we have a plant with HEART FLOWERS!" he said with an impressive Vanna White gesture toward one of our bleeding heart bushes.

While Jess and Stu and I were chatting in the kitchen, Ryan kept running off to his room and returning with one toy or another he thought was worth sharing with our guest. A remote control car! A talking parrot doll! A fishing net full of rubber duckies! He demonstrated each one proudly.

Most surprising, he brought down a couple of teddy bears and created an elaborate pretend scenario with them - I believe White Bear was flying away in a hot air balloon and fell and Orange Bear, in a superhero cape, had to get him to the "hop-si-tal" to fix a broken leg. There are two noteworthy things about this seemingly-typical scene: first, these bears almost never leave his bed or serve any function other than being sleeping companions; second, it is extremely rare for Ryan to use his toys to act out stories, and even more rare for the stories he performs to be anything other than scripts from books or cartoons.

Stu and I told Jessica that if all this interaction was because of her that she would never be allowed to leave our house. Ever.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

20 Years

"Are you going to Reunion?"

In another sign that I'm not a kid anymore, I got a notice that my 20th high school reunion is coming up this fall. My (very few) high school era friends have gone through a flurry of "I'll go if you go" sort of hedging. We'd like to see each other, but none of us is all that anxious to see the other members of our graduating class.

Because there are two types of people: those who enjoyed high school, and those who were crippled by it. If you're one of the latter, you know what I mean. If you're one of the former, let me explain:

You enjoyed high school at my expense.

You mocked me. You bullied me. You teased me for being too smart. Too slow. For not wearing the right jeans. For being shy. For being outspoken. For trying to improve my accent in Spanish class. For not having a boyfriend. For having the wrong boyfriend. For trying to be nice to you. For giving up and keeping to myself.

The only time you were friendly to me was after I had starved myself to the brink of hospitalization; you asked me for diet tips.

Five years out of high school, I still felt like I had to prove I was deserving of my life. Graduated college; so do lots of people. Landed jobs in my field of choice; I should be able to find better ones. Guy attempted date rape; I shouldn't have gone home with him. Had my heart broken; I must be unlovable.

Twenty years out of high school, despite how fabulous my life is, I still question my adequacy at all turns. Didn't make the roster? Must be because the team knows how much I suck at this game. New neighbors aren't welcoming? They must not like me. Depression has escalated? I should be able to keep this crap under control by now.

Twenty years later and I still avoid anyone who gives off that I-loved-high-school vibe, because I know they will only lead me to disappointment. I can smell it when a person is prone to saying one thing to my face and talking about me when I'm not around. I distrust people who love things I consider superficial - makeup, shoes, shopping, goddamn decorative pillows - because I fear they'll treat me like I'm back in high school.

I've spent over half my life avoiding reliving my high school years. So while I'd love to catch up with a handful of people, I'm not so keen to hang out with the rest of you. I don't anticipate any personal benefit to be gained from telling you off in person, so the polite thing would probably be for me to let you have your little wow-those-were-the-best-years-of-my-life party and try to surround myself with people more worthy of my energy.